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A later read at theIz8th Meetzng of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, Nevw

York and Chicago, November 22, 1901.



The foregoing title immediately suggests the old-timiie controversy, alternating versus direct current. The present problem,
however, may be more accurately stated, alternating current only,
versus alternating currentt and direct current.
The economical radius of direct current su-pply from a central
station is so limited that even in a strictly direct-current system,
if it covers considerable area, recent engineering prescribes a
large alternating current generating plant furnishing power to
rotary converter sub-stations, and from these the direct current
is distributed. This is witnessed in recent installations in
Greater New York.
The problem, therefore, is this: For general distribtution for
lighting and power service where the current is generated in
alternators, is it desirable to utilize the current as alternating currenit or convert it into direct urrent?
Before taking up in detail the various elemelnts involved,
the following statemtents may in general be considered as axiomatic:
(1) Simplicity demands a uniformn system with elemi-ents as few
as possible and requiring a nminimnum of attention. Converting
apparatus requires rotating machinery and the presenec of attendants, aud these involve first cost, operating expense, complication and liability to interruption of service.
(2) In classes of service for wlhich direct current possesses no advantage- over alternating current, conversion is undesirable. For



[Nov. 22

example, the simplest case is ineandeseent ighting. It is doubtful whether a-ny one would propose converting to direct current
if incandescent lighting alone is to be supplied.
(3) In outlying districts or other territory wlhere the output
from a sub-station would be quite small, it would obviously not
be economical to convert into direct current, as many of the expenses of such a sub-station would be relatively large, so that the
cost per kilowatt for converting inito direct currenlt would be
These conditions limit the general problem, and the question
may now be stated thus: In those cases in which the conversion
from alternating into direct current is commercially practicable,
is it necessary or desirable ?
It will be readily granted that usually a large part of the service would be as satisfactory if operated by alternating as by
direct current. With regard, then, to those elemnents, in which
there is a difference of opinion, are the reasons for the use of
direct current sufficient to justify the iereased conmplications
a-nd expense of the converting apparatus?
To answer this intelligently, we will consider it in two divisions:
(a) In the utilization of electric energy, what advantages has
direct current over alternating current ?
(b) Wlhen energy is generated as alternating current, what disadvantages are involved in uitilizing it as direct current?
Taking up the first of these, let us coTnsider the ordinary
classes of service and the imeanis of providing for them.
Ineandeseent lighting may be considered as indifferent to the
character of the current, wheti er it is alternating or direct,
provided the frequency be su-fficiently high to prevent flickering.

Arc lighting is most extensilvely carried on by the enclosed

are lai p, which is satisfactorily operated from direct current circuits, and also from 6O cycle alternating circuits so that there is
no compellinig reason for choosing either one current or the
other as far as are lamps areconcernied.
The Nernst lamp,. which is quite satisfactory in its operation on
alternating current but not on direct current, gives a positive
reason for choosing the former.
In discussing motor service it is not the intention here to enter
into a controversy as to the relative merits of alternating and




direct current motors. Suffice it to say that both are in extensive use for nearly every kind of service. The induction motor
is notable in havinig no commutator, and on aceount of its ability
to stand variouis kinds of abuse, it is especially fitted for general distribution of power in all sorts of places, as sueh motorsreceive little or no attention.
For constanit speed wvork probably uo one will quaestion thesuperiority of the alter nating current muotor fromi the standpoint
of the mrlan who uses the motor and pays for repairs. Any objections which may be brought folward will probably be urged
on account of reasons applying to the supply system, sullh as power
factor, starting current and voltage reulation. These items may
be provided for by properly designing tthe system, and they cannot be regarded as legitimate objections to the use of the alternating current motor.
For variable speed work the conditions are different ; the
fundamental difference is due to the fact that althot ghi there is a
close correspondence between the performance of the induction
motor and the direct current shunt motor, with constant field ecx6itation the alterlnating current mnotor does not have an exact
analogue to the direct current series motor. It follows that induction Motors cannot exactly duplicate all direct cuirrent motors.
Therefore the results which may be desired nmust often be obtained in a diferent way from the methods employed with direct
current miotors.
From the above summary, it appears that all of the important
classes of se'rvice for which current-from a central station is used
may be successfully unldertaken either by the direct current or by
the alternating current; sometimes equally well, somnetimes with
the advantage on one side and sometimes with the advantage on
the other side. The most important difference is probably in
the case of variable speed miotors and the i'mportance of this will
depend quite largely on the proportion of this kind of service.
Although the aIternating current motor cannot exactly replace
the direct current iriotor, so that there may be some inconvenience in changing, froi one system to the other, yet when a new
plant is being laid out, it is probable that the cases are very rare
in which it would not on the whole be practicable to utilize
either alternating current motors or direct current motors.
To consider next the apparatus employed for producin a-nd
distributing current, the elements in the two svstems may be set
forth as follows




Primary Mains,


Distributing Circuits,

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Primary Mains,
Sub-stations with


S witchboards,
Rotary Converters,


Distributing Circuits.

Comparing these in detail, the generating station in general

will l)e substantially the same for the two system,s although a
higher fre-quency will ustually be employed if there is little or no
conversiorn to direct current.
The primary feeding system will also be substantially the
samne in the two cases, difering, hlowever, in the number of
points at which the transformation is made to the low voltage,
and the distributing system is supplied with current.
The sub-stations for conversion into direct current constitute
the great differenCe between the two systems. Substations with

converting apparatuis are expensive to install and to operate.

The cost of the sub-station naturally m-akes it desirable to have
as few as possible; hence they are located at as great a distance
apart as the distributingb circuits will
The cost of distributing circuits for direct current is therefore
very much greater than for the low tension alternating current
circuits to which current is supplied from a large number of
transforming points since the alternatin, cuLrrent circuits are comparatively short, and the cost of copper is hence greatly reduced.
This effects a saving not only in the cost of the conductors themselves but also in subways and ducts, which are often limited in
eapacity and high in cost.
The liability to accident and interruption to servieo is inevitably greater in the systein which converts to direct current, than
irl that which merely transforms to a lower voltage, since the
sub-station with its switchboards and rotating mnachinery intervenes between the generator and the consumer.'
The storage batter y is an elemient which is sometimes presented
as a reason for adopting direct currernt, as it rinay be readily added
to the system. It may, however, be used in connection with alterilating current distribution. A rotary converter may be employed




for charging the storage- battery, and in turn the battery can
supply current throough the coniverter to the alternating circuits.
In this mannier the battery miay be related to the alternating system in substantially the same way that it is usually related to the
direct current system, except that the converter is betweern the
battery and the service.
The foregoing general comiparison between the two generating
and distributing systems evidently favors the one which employs
alternating current only. The introducotion of converting apparatus therefore must be justified by advantages accruing in
coninection with the utilization of the current, which are sufficiently great to overbalance the extra cost and complication.
To change an existing direct current system into an alternating current systeni is in miany cases a difficult iriatter. The circuits which are suitable for direct current may not be suiited for
alternating current. The rnotors nsed for the direct current
would of course be useless on the alternating cireuits. These
and other similar poinits complicate the general problem, and
wlhen anl existing direct current plant is to form part of a large
system, such considerations often determine the plan to be followed.
The foregoing discussion applies particularly to large city
plants for supplying lights and stationary motors for general
work, and it has been assumed that the entire service is supplied
either by direct current or by alternating current. There are,
however, some cases where a combined service is advantageous,
alternating current being supplied for certaini districts, and direct
current for others.
in cities, a combined service for general distribuition is somretimes applicable for furnishing direct current from sub-stations
to districts which have previously been supplied by direct current generating plants, while alternating current is furnished to
the outlying parts. The same generators may be used for both
classes of service, and may supply them simultaneouisly. Quite
sirmilar results may be attained from a direct current generating
plant, the alternating current beingobtained from invertedrotary

InI smaller towns a comiibined service fromn an alternating current plant is often used for supplying railways by 60-cycle rotary
converters in connection with general lighting and power, the
latter service being entirely by alternating current. In many



[Nov. 22

cases the lighting and railway work can be operated from the
same bus bars, as the automatic compounding of the rotary converters is such as to make the voltage upon the general system
sufficiently constant for lighting service.
Probably the most per:tinent conclusionl to be drawn froin a
discussion of this kind is that there is no ideal system, and no
panacea plan which can be universally applied. Existing and
local conditions, special requiirements and the relative importance of the various classes of service to be rendered, must all be
taken into account in determining what will be adequate in an
individual case.
The systems which we have been disculssing have'an important
and far-reaehing influence upon industrial life and social activity
aside from their engineering aspects. It would be difficult to
find an agent more instrumuentPl in bringing about the unification
anid coneentration of diversified industries and interests than
electric energy in the form of alternating current.
The recent electrical development in Greater New York
demonstrates this on a magnificent scale. A generation ago it
would have defied the imagination to discover any natural connection between such widely different agents as horses pulling
street cars, locomotives drawing elevated trains, gas lightinig
houses and streets, water operating elevators, stoves heating and
cookiing, and enginies of every sort and class doingahundred kinds
of work. But all of these and many others are lin common being
stuperseded by the electric cuirrent, which does not merely replace
but, develops, expands and transformiis. It is niotable that all ofthis varied service is to be supplied from altern-ating current generators; also that the outcome of the evolutioni of plans fol
general distribution and for railway work is identical in tliat
alternators of the same frequency are being installed for both, so
all could supply currenit to a common1 universal system.